Monday, October 24, 2011

Crabaugh's critique of classes

Dragon #109 (May 1986) contains one of my top 10 all-time favorite articles from that venerable magazine.  "Customized Classes" by Paul Montgomery Crabaugh.  I've sung the praises of Crabaugh before.  Dude wrote only a handful of published articles but each were brief and focused, with a strong grasp of the mechanics he was deploying.

Which is one of the reasons why "Customized Classes" is so interesting.  In just five pages Crabaugh gave us a system for making our own BX classes, demonstrated how it worked by redoing all seven canonical classes, and supplied us with five new classes to show how his system is meant to be used.  Kick ass.

But one thing has bothered me about this article for 25 years now: Crabaugh's numbers for the seven BX classes don't add up to the totals in the rulebook.  Dig these numbers for achieving 2nd level.

Fighter: rulebook 2,000xp; Crabaugh 1,760xp
Magic-User: rulebook 2,500xp; Crabaugh 1,840xp
Cleric: rulebook 1,500xp; Crabaugh 2,160xp
Thief: rulebook 1,200xp; Crabaugh 1,460xp
Dwarf: rulebook 2,200xp; Crabaugh 1,840xp
Halfling: rulebook 2,200xp; Crabaugh 1,560xp
Elf: rulebook 4,000xp; Crabaugh 2,780xp

For a long time I thought that the dude just did his level best to hit the numbers in the rulebook but only came close.  Two things have turned me around on this reading in the past four or five years.  First of all, every other Crabaugh article I've encountered (not that there are many) indicates that the dude was on the ball with the rules, suggesting to me that he didn't just eyeball his numbers and hope for the best.  Secondly, Crabaugh's version of the cleric gets a spell at first level.  You don't write a BX article and give 1st level clerics a spell unless you are critiquing the rules as written.  (I guess you could do that if you're a cheap hack and not really paying attention to the edition you're writing for, but those kind of guys generally wrote AD&D articles during this period.)

So what do Crabaugh's numbers tell us about his opinions of the various classes, at least with regards to their first level version?  Here's what I think he's saying:
  • The vast 500 point difference between fighters and MUs is not justified.
  • Thieves advance too fast, but they are still wimpy enough that they should advance faster than the other human classes.
  • Halflings are not nearly as useful as dwarves or fighters.  I love halflings but I think I agree.
  • Elves are clearly the most potent class in the game, but they aren't worth nearly as many XP as the BX rules suggest.
  • IF you give the cleric a spell at first level it is the most potent human class and not that much less powerful than an elf.
 What does everyone think about Crabaugh's numbers?  I think a lot of players will agree that the MU has a big hill to climb.  Should the elf XP requirements be reconsidered as well?